Self esteem needs feature in the hierarchy developed by Abraham Maslow in 1943.
To understand the importance of self esteem it is necessary to understand Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
With all my years of experience writing about self-esteem and my work with clients suffering from a lack of self-worth, I feel that this theory is one of the most important and helpful.
On this page, I will explain why esteem needs are placed at the top of the hierarchy and ask the question of whether Maslow got this right or not. This information should enable you to better understand your esteem needs so that you can begin building your self esteem and confidence to a level that will help you to live a more rewarding and successful life.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is divided into 5 ascending levels. Esteem needs are placed on the second highest level, just below self-actualization at the top of the pyramid. Esteem needs are satisfied by others or the self, and include the need for confidence, image, recognition and respect.
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How and Why did Maslow Develop His Theory?
At the core of what we know now about our self esteem needs is Abraham Maslow. He is an important psychologist in the area of humanistic psychology. This form of psychology comes from the 1950s, when some were seeking to make the subject less technical and more related to the humanistic nature of man. On this page we will discuss the nature of self esteem and try to explain Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
To start with, Maslow became interested in explaining something very important to us all and very human, motivation. It seems logical that a humanistic psychologist would think about reasons for why we act in the way we do. Motivation is what drives us to act in a certain way. Therefore, it is impossible to successfully achieve any goal without motivation. Indeed, without motivation we wouldn’t push ourselves to learn or to try to improve ourselves or our lives.
So, what did Maslow believe about motivation? He believed that the cause of motivation is a lack of something that we need (Shiraev 2011). For instance, if we have no food, we get hungry and are motivated by hunger to find food. In today’s world, we don’t have to hunt, but we do have to go out and shop, and cook, (or maybe order) food. We need to eat. It’s simple cause and effect.
Maslow believed that when we lack important needs we will be motivated to get them. Seems easy to understand, doesn’t it? Well, Maslow went further and created his Hierarchy of Needs to put these needs in order of importance to try to explain behaviour. We will discuss, in particular, our self esteem needs and how they fit into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I will also suggest that Maslow may have got things wrong.
What is the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs?
“Man is a perpetually wanting animal.”Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was discussed in his article in the Psychological Review in 1943. It is an ordered list of needs which motivate a human being. The most basic needs are at the bottom and must be fulfilled first. Once the basic needs are satisfied we move onto the next level of needs and so on to the top. The most basic are physical needs, such as food and sleep, the highest needs are self-actualisation (self development).
First, I will take a look at what Maslow said about self esteem and how it fits into our general needs. Abraham Maslow is famous for his “Hierarchy of Needs”, and this shows how important he believed self esteem to be. In my opinion, though, it is even more important than he thought.
The most basic needs, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, are the physical needs which we all have to satisfy in order to live. Using the case of someone who is hungry and cannot find enough food to eat, it is easy to see that this need will dominate his thinking and his goal will be to satisfy his hunger. Maslow further added that this man will not be able to think about any other higher needs until he solves his problem of sufficient food.
Once the basic physical needs are satisfied, we start to focus on the next level which is safety and security. Perhaps a person will look for a safer place to live or wish to get a job which offers some security. As each set of needs is satisfied, we look to the next level of yet higher needs and we set new goals. In this way, we constantly seek to go higher up the pyramid or Hierarchy of needs.
Maslow makes a very good point that we are therefore never happy because we keep looking forward to the next set of needs until we achieve them. When we do, we move on again.
The sense of gratification becomes important because in a modern society we structure our lives according to meeting these needs and achieving our goals.
Abraham Maslow and Self Esteem Needs
As we move up the Hierarchy, the needs become more social. Your needs may now revolve around your sense of love and belonging. In the Maslow Hierachy of Needs, your self esteem needs only feature when all more basic needs have been achieved. It is therefore a higher need. Maslow claims that virtually everyone has the need for self esteem and respect from others.
Esteem needs include your sense of achievement and worth, and how confident you feel. Healthy self esteem is related to your self identity and how much you and others respect you. Maslow described these needs as something you seek when you were lucky enough to have satisfied the more basic needs including belonging and love needs (number 3 on the infographic above).
Your self esteem needs also include things like your status and dignity which is also related to your self respect and confidence. Anything that helps build a more positive self image will help to raise your self esteem and satisfy the psychological needs that Maslow placed in the second highest level of his Hierarchy.
Once these esteem needs are met, self actualisation needs become the most important focus. These represent the actual realisation of your true potential and your goals and aspirations in life. Here, Maslow lists needs such as acceptance of who you are and facts, creativity and morality amongst others. The idea is that once you build a healthy level of self esteem you can move on to achieving real self improvement.
There are two types of esteem needs according to Maslow
- Self esteem and self respect – the thoughts and attitudes you have towards yourself. In other words, self esteem from an internal source.
- Self esteem which comes from the respect from others. Basically, self esteem from an external source.
Why is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Important?
Self esteem and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are both important. Maslow’s work is important for the way it has shaped our thinking on motivation. It is also important because it has changed psychological thought so that the human experience is at the centre. Before this, psychology was a less accessible, more technical subject that was removed from the human condition.
Abraham Maslow’s work is also important because he was one of the first to develop the idea of positive mental health. Therapies have grown out of his understanding of behaviour and motivation that focus on improving mental health and the experience of people with psychological issues. Previously, psychology was about curing illness and managing the sick (source: Wikipedia).
“It is as if Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half.”Maslow, A. H. (2013). Toward a psychology of being. Simon and Schuster.
According to Avneet Kaur, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has led to a much better understanding of motivation in organisational psychology and has enable companies to better understand its employees.
According to Bob Poston, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has been extremely helpful and used as an evaluation tool in many different fields especially in Health and Education.
What if Maslow’s Needs are not Met?
When needs are not met, Maslow stated that a person could not function in a healthy way. If certain basic needs are not met, they can become a long term concern and occupy a person so that they do not seek other goals. If other needs are not met, such as belonging or esteem needs, then psychological issues can affect the person and these can become serious if not resolved.
Criticisms of Maslow’s Theory of Self Esteem Needs
There is some controversy and disagreement about the nature of self esteem and Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.
Self esteem begins to develop in young children at the age of about two years (source: Poston 2009). How can self esteem be placed so high up in the pyramid if this is true?
Another question about Maslow’s Theory is the highest level (self-actualization). He claimed that those who reach this level of needs are the most successful people in society, but many believe that all of us are at some stage of self-development and self-actualization. This contradicts Maslow’s theory that one set of needs lead to another ending in the highest level of self-actualization. The solution to this may be that some of the needs can overlap, or there might be different levels of self-actualization and self-esteem needs.
There have been many studies that seem to contradict Maslow’s Theory of Needs and very few studies seem to support it (Wahba and Bridwell, 1976). This lack of support has led many to doubt how useful this theory really is in practice.
Was Maslow Right About Self Esteem Needs?
I personally don’t think he was. The fact that we move from one set of needs to the next seems too simple a view and the reality is more complicated than this. I believe self esteem is far more important than he states, and it is more closely related to basic needs. Therefore, it requires healthy levels of self esteem and confidence to form relationships and find love, and to establish a place where you feel you belong. We need self esteem in our daily life to function properly and maintain motivation to improve. We need it to communicate with others.
If we believe Maslow, in the past when generally people were poorer and lacked many of their basic physiological needs, self esteem should have been quite irrelevant. Rather, they would have been more concerned with eating and keeping alive and healthy. Is that true?
I believe that self esteem has always been important. And it will continue to be important because all else depends on it, especially our success and accomplishment in life.
Finally, if you have low self esteem you may neglect healthy eating because you won’t care about your personal needs. In fact, low self esteem may cause you to neglect many of your basic needs, especially if these needs involve self care.
Success at Work and Self Esteem Is Connected
In today’s world, a high level of self esteem is very helpful in many areas of life. Take seeking employment as a case in point. Nowadays, it is harder than ever to get a job and keep it. Self esteem helps you to be more motivated and confident and present yourself better enabling you to stand out among other applicants.
Once you get a job, (security need – number 2 on the info graphic above), you need to be able to relate with others at work and communicate effectively or you may risk losing it or failing to get a promotion. It is true that employment and the nature of the work you do will affect your self esteem, but it is also true that healthy self esteem will help you find a better job and be satisfied in it.
Your security needs may be dependent on your self esteem in other ways. For instance, if you are confident and strong mentally you will be able to protect yourself better from threats to your personal security. Many sexual predators prey on those they see as weak and vulnerable. Being strong inside demands a good level of confidence and esteem for sure. This is what, in my opinion, makes Maslow’s hierarchy of needs far too simplistic and does not consider the different realities that happen to all of us in life.
Motivation and Self-Worth Work Together
One other relevant point is regarding motivation. Self esteem is a vital part of your own self motivation and without a sense of your own self worth your motivation will be severely limited. Without motivation it is difficult to do anything or take even the most simple steps in order to meet your more basic needs.
The world we live in is very competitive and requires pro-activity to ask or reach out for what you want, or else others will ignore you. Self esteem is a vital tool in your weaponry of life. Though it is a good starting point, I don’t believe Maslow has given this enough emphasis in his hierarchy of needs.
How can you meet your self esteem needs?
Work and Career
Your choice of work is very important for your self esteem. These days most people define themselves by the job they do. If you are a professional, say a teacher, engineer, doctor, psychologist, chemist, lecturer or whatever your job is, you can take pride in your profession. Jobs also give us status as well as a personal identity. Not only can jobs satisfy esteem needs they also provide a sense of belonging, satisfying belonging needs.
Therefore, one way to satisfy your esteem needs is to focus on your career opportunities. Promotion is another way to fulfill your esteem needs, so focusing on doing your job well, or taking on new responsibilities is helpful.
Education and Learning
Learning and education is not a basic need but can help you satisfy esteem needs because it is an award and also adds to your status. It can also give you a sense of satisfaction and can fulfill the need to learn that many of us have. A degree or a professional qualification can boost your self esteem and confidence and also help to open up opportunities to advance in your career.
Volunteering and Helping Others
Anything you do to help others can satisfy your love and esteem needs. Helping others is a way of contributing to and being a valuable member of society. You also get the chance to give love to others and develop positive communication and relationships with others.
Volunteering can also give you an added perspective on life and help you to feel grateful that you can help others rather than need to be helped by others. This helps you understand that you are lucky. Giving love, developing relationships, helping others less fortunate than yourself will boost how you think about yourself and will increase your self esteem.
You may already feel that you are a member of a group. Friends can give you a sense of belonging, as can family. Belonging needs are important and we see these on the third level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
If you have an interest in a hobby or activity, or any common interest it is easier than ever now to join groups either online or offline. Eventually you can meet with fellow members and share your interests. This offers you a great opportunity to satisfy belonging needs and even esteem needs if you feel that the group has some form of status or makes you feel good when you tell others you are a member.
Self Actualization Needs
If you are lucky enough to live in a developed country or fast developing country, you probably manage to meet your physiological needs and may be concerned about the highest needs, self-actualization. If you are visiting this website, you may be interested in self development at this level.
Unlike Maslow claimed, you do not need to be a highly successful or person in a high position to want to satisfy these needs.
First, decide what aspect of self-actualization you want to focus on. Do you want to discover more about who you are? Do you want to explore spirituality? Are you interested in art and culture?
Whatever it is that you seek to improve about yourself, you can begin on that journey today. I have some recommendations for reading, meditation, hypnosis, and other tools you can use here. The sky is the limit when it comes to self-exploration and self-actualization needs!
- Kaur, A. (2013). Maslow’s need hierarchy theory: Applications and criticisms. Global Journal of Management and Business Studies, 3(10), 1061-1064.
- Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological review, 50(4), 370. Accessed at: http://www.excelcentre.net/TheoryHumanMotivation.pdf
- Maslow, A. H. (2013). Toward a psychology of being. Simon and Schuster.
- Poston, B. (2009). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Surgical technologist, 41(8), 347-353.
- Shiraev, E. (2011). A history of psychology; A global perspective. Sage Publications, Inc.
- Wahba, Mahmoud A., and Lawrence G. Bridwell. “Maslow Reconsidered: A Review of Research on the Need Hierarchy Theory.” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, vol. 15, 1976, 212-240
- Wikipedia. Abraham Maslow. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Maslow